Gov. Jay Inslee speaks out against LNG plant in Tacoma, methanol facility in Kalama

Gov. Jay Inslee speaks out against LNG plant in Tacoma, methanol facility in Kalama

The liquefied natural gas plant under construction by Puget Sound Energy in Tacoma, January 30, 2018. Peter Haley

Washington’s governor is changing course on his support of two fossil-fuel projects in the state.

Following a bill signing Wednesday banning hydraulic fracking for oil and natural gas within Washington state, Gov. Jay Inslee spoke out against projects tied to fossil fuels, including Puget Sound Energy’s liquefied natural gas site under construction in Tacoma and a methanol production facility in Kalama, which had been previously proposed for Tacoma.

RELATED: Northwest tribes ask Gov. Inslee to halt construction of Tacoma LNG plant

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Inslee said emerging science on the rapid pace of climate change and the environmental effects of natural gas now mean the “state’s efforts and future investments in energy infrastructure should focus on clean, renewable sources rather than fossil fuels,” according to a news release Wednesday issued from his office.

“I cannot in good conscience support continued construction of a liquefied natural gas plant in Tacoma or a methanol production facility in Kalama,” he said Wednesday after a bill signing. “In the early days of both projects, I said they could help reduce greenhouse gas emissions as we transition to cleaner energy sources, but I am no longer convinced that locking in these multi-decadal infrastructure projects are sufficient to accomplishing what’s necessary.

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“The age of consequences is upon us. We have to act based on clear science.”

Puget Sound Energy pushed back on the comments from Inslee, who launched a presidential campaign March 1 and has presented himself as the leading climate-focused candidate in a crowded Democratic field.

“We’re confident that science and fact continue to support this facility,” spokesman Andy Wappler told The News Tribune on Wednesday. “It is very clear the approving local and other agencies understand the benefits” of the LNG site.

Various groups in opposition to LNG in Tacoma have long asked for the governor to halt construction on the Tideflats project, most recently after the latest environmental review supported previous findings on greenhouse gas emissions and restarted the permit process.

Leaders of the Puyallup Tribe have repeatedly expressed their concerns about the project’s environmental effects and what it considers flawed reviews and a lack of consultation with the tribe.

On Wednesday, Puyallup Tribal Council Chairman Bill Sterud applauded the governor’s statements.

“We welcome the governor’s strong and clear statement about the dire impacts of fossil fuels,” Sterud said in a statement issued after the governor’s comments. “Today he showed strong leadership on climate change.”

While stopping short of calling for an outright halt of the projects, Inslee said he would work with agency directors in the next few weeks to discuss future options.

“I want to be clear that my stance on these projects does not change our state’s regulatory process,” he said. “As is the case with any project, our state agencies will comply with state and federal laws to ensure a rigorous and objective review of projects. Decisions on permit applications must also be made in accordance with state and federal law.”

In a statement issued after the governor’s announcement, PSE said: “The Tacoma LNG facility will deliver the cleanest fuel choice possible today for shipping and transportation — one that multiple, local, state and federal government studies conclude benefits the climate, improves local air quality and reduces the chance of oil spills in Puget Sound — while helping ensure local families and businesses have safe dependable energy.

“We’ve been consistent in our work to deliver real, measurable environmental progress, including our decades-long track record in wind power, hydroelectricity, energy efficiency, electric vehicles and more, and know that science and fact continue to support this facility.”

The governor’s comments were a change in course from his past endorsements of both the Tacoma and Kalama projects.

“It’s time for us to modernize and update the ways we weigh the costs and benefits of all fossil fuels, including natural gas,” he said Wednesday.

The LNG project is in its air permit phase of construction. Opponents continue to press Tacoma and state officials for a supplemental environmental impact statement to evaluate changes to the project and safety concerns.

“We now look to the City of Tacoma and the Department of Ecology,” Tribe Council member Annette Bryan said Wednesday in a statement. “My hope is that both the city and the state will be on the right side of history.”

Sterud said the tribe and its allies need to continue to showing resolve.

“We have to be vigilant,” Sterud said. “We need the support the governor is offering and then some. The fight is not over.”

Leaders from other groups opposed to the projects also issued statements Wednesday in support of Inslee’s comments.

“For years, Washington communities have organized and mobilized to demand the rejection of these fracked gas facilities, and today, Governor Inslee listened to those calls,” said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune.